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deadCenter Film Festival dispatch: Mike Boettcher's apolitical agenda

George Lang Modified: June 8, 2013 at 4:20 pm •  Published: June 7, 2013

I bumped into veteran war correspondent, journalism professor, documentarian, and generally well-rounded badass Mike Boettcher (that’s him on the left, with his son Carlos) last night at deadCenter’s official opening party and got to ask him a few questions. I say “got to” because it really was an honor for me. Boettcher’s three decades as an ABC, CNN, and NBC correspondent embedded in some of the world’s most dangerous locations made him –along with his good humor– one of the OU Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication’s best-loved professors in my time there. I never took his courses –which he often taught via Skype while on location in Afghanistan– but several friends did. One story went that he once was lecturing in person when his cell rang. He picked up mid-lecture and addressed the caller as “Diane”. After putting his students on pause for a few moments (he was actually there in Norman for this one), he apologized and returned to teaching. He eventually dismissed class, but not before a student raised his hand to inquire if “Diane” was Diane Sawyer. She was.

Unfortunately I didn’t have much room or time for Boettcher and his 93-minute documentary “The Hornet’s Nest” (it’s a gripping, unvarnished report from his and his son Carlos’s time on the front lines of Afghanistan in 2011) for my general color story about deadCenter that ran in today’s Oklahoman, but I felt moved to share about his agenda, as the film –which showed earlier this evening at OKCMOA– opened up something of a public forum about a citizenry’s collective responsibility to veterans who’ve returned home from war.

Boettcher made it clear before the screening that he didn’t have the usual set of goals for his film. They’d made it on a small budget and weren’t showing it on the traditional festival circuit (it’s worth noting here that Boettcher’s originally from Ponca City, and he now lives in Oklahoma City when he’s not abroad reporting). Instead they were hoping to galvanize support for a movement to connect civilians to the lives (and deaths) of American soldiers abroad.

“The news has become a profit center,” Boettcher said after the screening, when a reporter asked him why he thought many of the traditional media outlets had largely stopped embedding reporters with soldiers. “People back home are weary of hearing it, so they turn the news off when it starts reporting on Afghanistan … There’s a pressure for the media to not dwell ont his stuff, and it’s coming from the American people.”

Boettcher insisted several times that this is an apolitical issue. That, Republican or Democrat, there ought to be an endgame in mind for soldiers who return home and for how they ought to be reintegrated into civilian society.

One other way “The Hornet’s Nest” stood out from the other offerings at this year’s festival: Boettcher and producer David Salzberg had invited members of the platoons the film documented to attend tonight’s showing, which was also attended by a few other veterans who spoke up during the post-film Q&A. This is the part where it went from Q&A to public forum:

“We don’t want to talk about it,” one vet said, quickly affirmed by head nods from several others. “I mean, we do. But, it’s hard.”

Boettcher insisted that that part –telling soldiers’ stories– was his job, and that of a faltering national media. Not veterans’. carney

Photos via “The Hornet’s Nest”‘s official website.